NTSB Identification: ERA13FA064
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, November 19, 2012 in Canton, CT
Probable Cause Approval Date: 11/06/2013
Aircraft: PIPER PA-28-180, registration: N8826J
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot was flying to the destination airport at night on the second day of a long cross-country trip. Radar data showed that when the airplane was about 12 miles from the destination airport, it began to descend. The airplane eventually descended into trees and terrain about 6 miles from the destination airport, at an elevation nearly 400 feet below the airport's traffic pattern altitude, and 1,400 feet below the maximum elevation figure published for that area.

A state police helicopter dispatched to search for the airplane following the accident reported that the terrain surrounding the accident site was "surprisingly" dark, and that some of the only nearby ground lighting came from a parking lot about 1 mile beyond the accident location and along the airplane’s course . According to the aeronautical information manual, lights along a straight path can easily be mistaken for runway lights at night. The pilot’s logbook indicated that he had flown 1 hour at night in the accident airplane in the preceding year. Given the pilot's lack of recent night flying experience, it is possible that he initiated the early descent because he had mistaken the nearby parking lot lights for those of the destination airport.

Postaccident examination of the airplane showed no evidence of preaccident failure or malfunction that would have precluded normal operation.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

The pilot’s failure to maintain clearance from terrain while performing a night visual approach to an airport. Contributing to the accident were the dark night and the pilot's lack of recent experience flying at night.

Full narrative available

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